Archaeology French Quarter dig searches for House of the Rising Sun

Discussion in 'Archaeology' started by mscbkc070904, Apr 10, 2005.

  1. mscbkc070904

    mscbkc070904 Premium Member

    There was a house in New Orleans where women wore rouge by the ton. When it burned to ruins in 1822, it was called the Rising Sun.

    Until this year, most people speculating about the origins of the old song "House of the Rising Sun" didn't even mention the Rising Sun Hotel.

    But archaeologists digging in the French Quarter say that whether or not the Rising Sun was the debauched establishment described in the song, it was definitely debauched.

    The key clues were at least seven rouge pots - with openings wide enough to allow an easy two-fingered scoop - dating from the 1820s.

    "Respectable women were using rouge very surreptitiously, if at all," said Jill-Karen Yakubiak, president of Earth Search Inc., contracted to help with the archaeology.

    But that's not the most exciting find. Shannon Dawdy, an associate archaeology professor at the University of Chicago, said the same dig has uncovered evidence that prehistoric Indians lived, or at least camped, in what is now the French Quarter.

    Those bits of fired clay are about the size of a dollar coin. To the untrained eye, some look less like pottery than like fine, thin gray asphalt shot through with tiny white flecks. Others are thinner, even elegant, with rows of fine incised lines and angles.

    It's long been known that Indians lived along Bayou St. John, the waterway which then linked the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. "But there has never been physical evidence in the French Quarter before," said Priscilla Lawrence, executive director of the Historic New Orleans Collection, which commissioned the dig on property it bought to expand its archives.

    At other French Quarter sites, Indian pottery was mixed with colonial ware. Here, it's all by itself, with about 4 inches of "sterile" dirt, without any artifacts at all, between it and the first colonial artifacts.

    These shards were found more than a yard below ground, in soil so mucky that it could be removed only a bit at a time, said Ryan Gray of Earth Search.

    Higher up, in sooty soil, the researchers found enough broken bottles to fill box after box, and those rouge pots which call mental echoes of minor-key warnings about the sins of New Orleans and the house "they call the Rising Sun."

    The song made the U.S. top 20 when Eric Burdon and the Animals toured in 1964, but its tune may go back to 1600s England. Like any folk song, it has many forms. But most lament the singer's ruin and the debauchery of gambling, drink, or both.

    Some accounts of the U.S. version say it's from the Civil War era; a handwritten version sent to the Library of Congress in 1925 says the writer learned it "from a Southerner ... of the type that generally call themselves `one o'th' boys.'"

    The wood-frame building which ended as the Rising Sun Hotel stood well before the Civil War, and apparently was at least moderately decorous for much of its existence. Property records show that Mme. Margaret Clark Chabaud bought it in 1796.

    "It appears that for about 10 years, she operated it as a pension or inn - probably of a fairly respectable type," Dawdy said. Then, she said, the widow Chabaud and her daughter began renting it out to a series of English and American men, who used it as a hotel and coffeehouse, then a hotel and tavern.

    When it was renamed the Hotel Rising Sun in January 1821 - only 13 months before it burned - the new owners took out an ad saying it would continue its character of "giving the best entertainment" for gentlemen, with attentive servants, good liquors and excellent food.

    The name was a common one, Dawdy notes. "There were many Rising Suns in all English-speaking cities," she said. A ship with that name docked in New Orleans in 1808, and the city had a coffee house by that name in 1838, she said.

    There's also no clear evidence for the belief that "Rising Sun" was a euphemism for a bordello. "The song has come to mean whatever listeners want it to mean," she said.

    Early 19th century police reports, which might have shown whether the Rising Sun needed more attention than neighboring establishments, haven't survived.

    "Another question we're looking at," Gray said, "is what exactly did a brothel or disorderly house mean at that time? It could very well just be a bar. ... Because the history of prostitution in that time is so comparatively undocumented, we have a number of research issues to express and explore with this."

    Almost everything archaeologists would now consider artifacts from the Rising Sun Hotel was probably carted off as trash immediately after the fire and when the site was cleared for a new hotel six years later.

    Alecia P. Long, a history professor at Georgia State University and author of a book about New Orleans titled "The Great Southern Babylon," said this work is interesting. But she hasn't seen convincing evidence that that the Rising Sun in New Orleans is also the one in the song.

    For that matter, the song never says that the House of the Rising Sun is a whorehouse, said Pamela Arceneaux, a Historic New Orleans Collection reference librarian who has amassed "Rising Sun" information for years.

    Some researchers have suggested it might be a prison or gambling house, she said. "It could be any number of other places where a person might meet their downfall, might regret an ill-spent life."

    Historic New Orleans Collection:
  2. Mizar

    Mizar Premium Member

    Intresting. I never knew we even had the dig going on in the french quater and I'm down there weekly.

    Hell there hasn't even been anything in the news paper about it,